The beaches of Florida are one of the most popular reasons to visit the state, and if you’re a surfer, some are renowned for being particularly special.
However, if you’ve heard about recent New Smyrna Beach shark attacks, you might wonder if the waters there are safe to enjoy.
Particularly as the media have given the area the unfortunate title of “Shark Bite Capital Of The World!”
To set the record straight, we’ll find out how this troubling name has come about and examine the facts surrounding the New Smyrna Beach shark attacks.
Importantly, we’re going to discover that while shark bites may appear to be occurring more frequently here than in other places, they’re almost always non-fatal and, most importantly, still extremely rare.
Indeed, shark research experts say that “You’re far more likely to get involved in a fender bender driving to New Smyrna Beach” than getting bitten by a shark in the water!
No wonder that Florida is also known as the shark tooth capital of the world.
Why Is New Smyrna Beach the Shark Bite Capital of the World?
The area is most famous for the 27-kilometer (17-mile) long stretch of pristine white sandy beaches that run from the Ponce de Leon Inlet to the Canaveral National Seashore.
The waters of this stunning coastline are known for having some of the best surf zones in the country for all levels of surfers.
However, New Smyrna Beach has also become known as the shark bite capital of the world because there have been more incidents recorded in Volusia County than in any other area.
Shark bite data is recorded by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The ISAF is “the world’s only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks.”
The ISAF notes that the State of Florida tops the global charts for unprovoked shark bites, with as many as “60% of the U.S. total and 38% of unprovoked bites worldwide” each year.
Within Florida, Volusia, which includes New Smyrna Beach, stands out as the hotspot for shark bites.
In 2021, Volusia County was the location for 63% of the state’s total of unprovoked bites, with 17 incidents, all of which were non-fatal.
While some of the incidents happened elsewhere in the county, a number have occurred in the waters off New Smyrna Beach, leading the media to call the area the “shark bite capital of the world.”
2021 was a particular peak, and the five-year annual average for the county is much lower, with nine attacks each year. However, the area is still typically the national hotspot.
Gavin Naylor, from the ISAF, has commented that “the chances of getting bit by a shark in New Smyrna Beach are ten times higher than anywhere else nationwide.”
Where and How Do These Shark Attacks Happen?
Why is New Smyrna Beach dangerous? There are several reasons why so many shark bites occur here, and it’s worth noting that although incidents occur more frequently than in other areas, they’re still very rare considering the enormous numbers of people who enjoy watersports, and surfing in particular, each year. (In 2021, more than 422,000 tourists visited the New Smyrna Beach area.)
According to the ISAF, most unprovoked shark attacks happen to what they call “surface recreationists,” which includes activities like surfing, water skiing, windsurfing, boogie boarding, rafting, or floating on inflatables.
In the ten years between 2010 and 2019, there were three times the number of incidents in Florida involving surface recreationists than those with swimmers.
One of the most popular areas for surfing in New Smyrna Beach is on the Atlantic side of the Ponce de Leon Inlet.
Here, like other waters in the county, there is a strong tidal flow, which, according to Gavin Naylor, ISAF’s director, encourages huge congregations of baitfish, which in turn attract large numbers of sharks.
Indeed, it has been said that anyone using the water at New Smyrna Beach will have come within 10ft of a shark.
So, the most popular surfing waters also have conditions that encourage a higher-than-average number of sharks, especially during high tides when the predators like to enter shallow waters to search for food.
It’s known that sharks are attracted by the vibrations created in the water by surfers splashing and kicking with their hands and feet.
Additionally, the waters are particularly murky, meaning that the shark may not be able to rely on its vision when approaching the unfortunate accident victim.
As surfers paddle, it’s thought that the soles of their feet catch the light in the murk and resemble fish. This could cause the shark to think they might be able to get an easy meal.
Simply, pretty much every shark bite is a case of mistaken identity as the shark tries to discover if the noisy creature splashing at the surface is food.
List of the Latest Shark Attacks in New Smyrna Beach
As we look at the details of some more recent New Smyrna Beach shark attacks, keep in mind that while each accident is a tragic occurrence for those involved, they are still, thankfully, very rare and almost always non-fatal.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the seas without incident.
September 6, 2022
A 27-year-old woman was bitten by a shark while wading in waist-deep water at New Smyrna Beach.
The species of shark involved was unknown, as only the dorsal and tail fins were seen during the attack.
Fortunately, the woman’s injuries were non-life-threatening, and she was treated in the hospital before being released.
July 4, 2022
A 28-year-old male surfer was bitten on the foot as he stepped off his board into the water close to the jetty at the inlet in New Smyrna Beach.
Unluckily for Pat Clark, when the incident occurred, he stepped almost directly onto a shark, and it is thought that the animal bit him in a defensive reflex.
Mr. Clark said, “I just feel this gnarly pain. I was like, what was that? I had no idea, and by the time I was like, that was a shark.”
Mr. Clark was treated for the shark attack, and the wound was closed with stitches after he’d been driven to the local hospital. While they didn’t identify the species of shark, the doctors estimated it was around five feet long from the bite radius.
September 9, 2021
A 16-year-old boy was knocked off his surfboard as he paddled in the surf.
At first, Doyle Nielson thought he had been hit by another surfer or even a dolphin, but he soon realized that it had been a shark and that the animal had given him a small bite on his arm.
The bite required nine stitches in the hospital, but it hasn’t put Doyle off surfing.
“I’ll definitely be surfing again, but I know that it’ll affect my mindset. Like, I’ll be a little more cautious in the water,” he said.
The Sharks in New Smyrna Beach
What kind of sharks are in New Smyrna Beach? Local experts say that more than 15 shark species exist off the Florida Coast, and they could all be found at New Smyrna Beach.
Historically and in the present day, many sharks have been found in Florida’s waters. After all, Florida beaches are some of the best places in the world to find fossilized shark teeth.
The ISAF lists multiple species as having been involved in unprovoked shark attacks in Florida, including those involved in New Smyrna Beach shark attacks.
In many cases, the species hasn’t been identified accurately and is listed as being an unknown Requiem shark species.
However, based on their known behavior and the large local population, albeit without concrete evidence, the ISAF believes that blacktip sharks cause most bites attributed to general requiem sharks.
The current breakdown of shark species believed to have caused unprovoked bites in Florida is as follows:
Requiem spp. 36%
Bull (Carcharhinus leucas) 16%
Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) 15%
Spinner (Carcharhinus brevipinna) 9%
Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) 7%
Hammerhead (family Sphyrnidae) 8%
Lemon (Negaprion brevirostris) 3%
Nurse (Ginglymostoma cirratum) 2%
Tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) 2%
Blue (Prionace glauca) 1%
Mako (family Lamnidae) 1%
How Safe Is New Smyrna Beach?
Having heard about the New Smyrna shark attacks, it’s natural to be wondering how safe the beach is.
As we’ve already mentioned, over 422,000 tourists visited the New Smyrna Beach area in 2021, and while not all of these will have gone into the ocean, a large amount will have.
In comparison, the number of unprovoked shark bites in all of Volusia County was 17 in 2021. Remember that the five-year annual average for the county is much lower, with nine attacks each year.
Almost all incidents are non-fatal, with the last known death in Volusia County having taken place in 1981 when the victim was left swimming in the ocean at night after their boat capsized.
Compare this to deaths by drownings in Florida which are almost always in double figures each year.
So, without reducing the significance of these incidents, we can say that accidents involving sharks and people are still incredibly rare, given the number of people who enjoy the ocean.
To reduce the risk of being bitten by a shark, you should follow the following guidelines:
- Always swim in front of a lifeguard
- Only surf in the approved surf zones
- Avoid splashing the surface of the water while swimming or paddling
- Stay close to the shore in shallow water
- Stay away from schools of fish
- Never take food or bait into the water
- Avoid anglers and spearfishing
- Do not enter the water just before or after dawn or dusk
- Follow the instructions shown by Volusia County beach safety warning flags. In particular blue flags warning of dangerous marine life
What Is the Safest Beach From Sharks in Florida?
The ISAF doesn’t separate the unprovoked shark attacks on individual beaches. However, it does break down individual counties in Florida in its list.
Volusia (including New Smyrna Beach) tops the chart that runs from 1882 to the present day.
But the lowest number of incidents took place in Walton, Charlotte, and Santa Rosa counties, with each having just one incident ever recorded.
So, if you’re especially concerned about a shark attack, then you’ll probably find reassurance in looking at beaches in these areas.
Although New Smyrna Beach shark attacks appear to happen more frequently than in other locations, they are still extremely rare, given the number of people who enjoy the ocean there every year.
There was a record high of 17 non-life-threatening unprovoked shark bites in 2021 in the whole of Volusia County, while the five-year annual average is nine attacks each year.
Volusia County was the location for 63% of Florida’s unprovoked bites. Because the state tops the global charts for unprovoked shark bites, the county that includes New Smyrna Beach has been given the title “Unofficial Shark Bite Capital Of The World.”
The environmental conditions that make New Smyrna Beach so popular with surfers also make it attractive to sharks, and significant populations naturally live there.
Large numbers of people splashing in the water around sizable quantities of sharks, combined with bait fish, strong currents, and murky waters, unfortunately, mean that some incidents are inevitable.
The last recorded fatality in the so-called shark capital was in 1981, and this sadly involved a sailor being left in deep water at night when their boat capsized.
Fortunately, almost all injuries involving surfers or swimmers are relatively minor and require only relatively simple medical treatment.
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.